On February 14, we get excited about Valentine’s Day because it’s a day to tell our loved ones how much we care. But more than 15 years ago, Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler and other activists called people to raise awareness and fight domestic violence, faced by one billion women around the world. One writer remembers how the man she first made love to beat her and nearly broke her spirit. Go to vday.org to find out how you can become involved.
He was a romantic. There were always flowers, perfume and other lovely endearing gifts. He was gentle and sweet. He always made sure all of my needs where catered to and fulfilled. But most of all he was patient. In the year it took for me to finally give him my most prized jewel, he never once rushed me. The day it happened I was not as nervous as I imagined I would be. However, still waters run deep. Underneath my calm exterior was a multitude of feelings. I felt safe and loved, despite my hesitation and my knack for the “what ifs”. What if he isn’t the one? What if this isn’t the right time? I was young, just shy of my 18th birthday, and at my most vulnerable.
It felt like hours before we ultimately joined bodies. Before it was over I knew I was different. I was a woman now. I was a woman in love with a charming, caring and loving man. A man I knew deserved my gift, my womanhood, and my virginity. Or so I thought. The realization slapped me, literally, crossed the face in an eye-opening blaze.
Not soon after that incredible day, I went to see him. We were both hoping to expand on our newfound lovemaking. However, everything about this scene was different from before. No romantic setting, soft music or gentle touches and words. He was a bit aloof and disinterested. I chalked it up to lack of sleep or maybe he was just having a moment. But it seemed that everything I said or did ignited some kind of anger in him.
At first, as I tried to process the situation, I thought being still and quiet was the best solution. It’s not me. Maybe he was just stressed out and has a lot on his mind. He loves me. Right? Don’t make it worse with your childish ways, I told myself. What would other women do? How would my mother handle this?So I thought about what she would do; then I opened my mouth.
In an instant I was laying on the bed with my wrists held above my head. He was straddling me and there was heat emanating from my right cheek where he’d slapped me. His mouth was moving but my ears were ringing so loudly and I was in so much shock that when the next blow came I could only scream on the inside. He stopped attacking my face only to continue with blows to my body. I tried to fight back at this point but with punch after punch my arms soon felt like noodles. He hit harder the more I fought back, so I crawled into myself and waited. The wait felt endless.
Finally, it was over and for a while I laid with silent tears working their way down into the hollows of my neck. Then I slowly got up and walked to the bathroom, careful to avoid him. I cleaned myself up, fixed my hair and clothing and took a deep breath. I walked out of the bathroom numb and no longer crying. I turned to him and said goodbye.
I went home with a hole in the center of my chest, barely aware of my surroundings all the while trying to pretend that I was fine so no one would notice how empty I left inside. Later the night, I curled up into a ball and cried until the early morning hours. We didn’t speak for about two weeks and when we did I knew without a doubt that if I stayed with him I would be in harm’s way again. So once more I said goodbye but this time I meant it. It was devastating.
I’m no longer that naïve 17-year-old girl but more than ten years later I’ve come to realize how that relationship has defined me. There were several things running through my mind that day and the days to follow, however, the thing that caused the most distress was how I disappointed my mother. As I laid there it was not the fear of him hurting me more that caused me to still and quiet, it was the fear of going home with the evidence of my abuse. Nothing within me was strong enough to handle seeing my mother’s face if she got a glimpse of my bruises. For her to look at me with desperate eyes and wondered “how could this happen?” or “didn’t I teach her to be strong?” and “didn’t I tell her she’s too special to have any man put his hands on her?”
My mother has always been the example she preached. She was–is–the epitome of strength and resilience. It was because the shame I felt I would bring her that led me to walk away from him. The burden of knowing I gave up such an extraordinary part of myself to someone so undeserving was almost too much to bear.
Now, when I think of someday having my own daughter I reflect on this part of my life and hope to pass down the strength and values my own mother passed down to me. I want her to know that no abuser can ever fully succeed in breaking her spirit. I want my future daughter to know about my very painful lesson, but be aware of the greater one my mother, her grandmother taught–the lesson of self-worth.